It didn’t need it that much, but I still plugged in my phone when I got back to my room. I laid on my bed and stared up at the celestial patterns, just letting my mind wander. Magical worlds are great, right? Music is great, too. I know I’ve gotten through some hard days because of music. There might have even been one or two where it was my friends’ music that really helped. Other days, reading about magic worlds and listening to music just took everything great and made it everything better.
Maybe that was why I couldn’t understand my own hesitation in helping Tierney Ríocht. Wouldn’t this be my chance to give back when I’d already been given so much? I loved fantasy. I loved music. Even on Earth, I wanted to be helpful; why was this so hard?
Danger, my mind told me. But it said that about most things. Jean-Marc and the others wanted me to think there was no danger in helping them find their missing musicians, plus an extra one. Was it true, though? Or was there danger– even if they could protect me from it? Or maybe they really did believe there were no dangers; that could be bad, if the danger they were ignorant of was actually powerful.
The other fact was that I didn’t have the abilities they thought I did. I could barely play oboe, let alone teach it. They were going to have a hard time convincing me that I could still help. If they had a way of recruiting someone else, they should get started on that. I don’t know what kind of time limit Tierney Ríocht had, but I didn’t want to waste it.
One more visit. I could go back and figure some things out, maybe make it clear to them that I was the wrong choice. That I could only help in some lesser way. If there really was danger, it was probably far beyond the manor house. I could–
The sound of the messenger on my phone going off repeatedly startled me. I rolled over, grabbed my phone, and sat up to unlock it. There was a message from Killian sharing a picture of him and Larsa, then a few from Larsa himself, one of which made it look like he’d only recently learned how to use emojis. What really surprised me were the dozen or so messages from Stefan; that really wasn’t like him.
I realized I hadn’t checked the time when I’d gotten to my room. It was now almost five o’clock, and I didn’t think I’d been lost in thought for very long. Like Evander had said, time was different between the two worlds. I focused on going through Stefan’s messages.
There was a good morning, followed by well wishes for the day he was going to the coffee shop and then work. He said hello again around when his lunch break would have been, and also sent me a link to a new song. I do usually check those when he send them, because he has great taste in music and he knows what I like, but since I hadn’t responded to anything that day, he wrote that he thought I was on a hike and said to have fun, be careful, and send him some pictures.
The most recent two were him hoping I’d made it back okay and then asking more urgently that I say something. Stefan wasn’t the clingy or obsessive type, and I had to admit that we rarely went that long without replying to one another. There were some days when we didn’t text at all, but a ‘hello’ usually got one back in kind. He was probably about to have Killian check in on me.
Sorry about the radio silence, I texted him.
If you want to make me drive all the way up there, you can skip the worrying part and just ask me.
Well, at least he could still joke about it.
Ooh, if you come, bring pizza, I teased back. It was better than telling him where I’d really been.
Sure, and I’ll get you some wings, but they’ll be the hottest possible flavor.
Then you can meet my fire-breathing dragon.
Sounds like a plan. Hey, if you’re ready to log in, we can start that quest you wanted to do.
Yeah, I texted back. Let me grab a couple things so I don’t have to go back downstairs in the middle of the game later, and I’ll be there.
I dropped my phone off in my office, turned on the computer, and headed downstairs. I was still full from breakfast, but I could use a drink, and it wouldn’t hurt to bring up a snack or two for later. I noticed through the kitchen window that it was still raining outside, although now it was down to just a night drizzle. It wasn’t exactly the same as the weather in Tierney Ríocht, making me wonder if the weather was usually at least a little similar between our two worlds, or if they were sometimes drastically different.
Once I got back to my desk, I could see that Stefan had already started hosting a video chat for us. I clicked into it, then hit the icon for the game.
“And there she is!” Stefan announced; he’d probably just seen my login show up in-game.
“Here I am,” I replied. “So, do we need any special supplies for this quest?”
I checked the in-game map, and found his character in one of the shops, so I started heading there, too.
“The swamp we’re going to has a lot of poisonous creatures,” he told me, “and probably some poison traps, too.”
I was about to interact with the shop-keeper when Stefan opened up a trade window. He placed several herbs and antidote bottles into it.
“You don’t have to buy all the items, you know,” I told him.
“I know,” he grinned, and I swear he winked at me through the web cam. “But I like to. Oh yeah, I found this on a monster I took down last night.”
He dropped a cloak into the trade. It was something his character’s class couldn’t use, but mine could. I inspected its stats.
“That’s a pretty nice one… woah, you got it off a vampire? I thought we were too low in level to fight them.”
“We are,” he said, “but I was in a raid, so it was a lot easier.”
“It has some nice bonuses.” I tried adding some gold to the trade, but Stefan pushed it back out. “You’re way too generous.”
“No I’m not,” he said. “I’m just the right amount of generous.”
The trade completed, and I put the cloak onto my character. “You should be selling your extra loot in the market.”
“I do. There was a lot of stuff from that raid that I didn’t keep. Besides, you’re the only one I give free stuff to.”
His character took off through the town, leaving me to follow him through the twists and turns. I suppose it made sense for him to share his treasure with me, since we did so many quests together. Killian didn’t play this particular game, and Stefan had decided not to teach it to Larsa, who really had to focus on his studies.
“So how was the hike?” Stefan asked as our characters left the city and headed out into the wilderness.
It was a lot harder to take the time to think over what to say when I was on camera; I didn’t want him reading into my facial expressions. It was still hard deciding what to tell him about where I’d really been, but if I hesitated too much, he’d catch on that something wasn’t right, so I had to go along with his assumption pretty quickly.
“It was kind of nice to get out and explore,” I told him. I’m the back of my mind, I knew that I’d only explored the manor house, and not even in depth.
“Are you going to send me pictures?”
“I didn’t take any.” That was true; I wonder if Tierney Ríocht could even be photographed. “I was just focused on being there.”
“I see,” he replied. “Being present is good for the soul. Plus you’re safer not trying to take pictures in the mountains. You’ll just have to take me on a hike when I get up there.”
Stefan liked hiking a lot more than I did; he usually kept to the trails, but if there was a natural path that was evident, he’d do some exploring. He liked camping, too, sometimes at established campgrounds, although he’d go out into the middle of nowhere if he had an experienced group to go with. Killian and I– and sometimes another friend or two– went with him on some of his easier camping trips. It was a fun change of pace, and we never got into anything too difficult; I know some people like to challenge themselves, and others brought with them so many conveniences that they could hardly call what they did camping, but we were right in the middle.
Well, I have a feeling that what the people of Tierney Ríocht did during their quests was a lot more challenging than what I did when I went camping. For one, I never went alone, and I always had help with setting up. We didn’t hunt, and unless our fisherman friend came with us, we brought all our own food. We didn’t even forage for berries and whatnot unless we’d confirmed with the local ranger that it was safe. Even though I would have had Evander and the others to help me, what they did was still a stretch for me to join in on.
“It shouldn’t be too cold,” I said. “You can bring your warmer coat just in case, and we’ll explore the woods together.” The four of us, I told myself. I would have felt safe even if it was just Stefan with me, though.
In the game, our characters were approaching the swampy area that our quest was in. The grasslands gave way to sparse woods, which had plenty of creatures in them.
“Those are some huge wolves,” I noted as we got deeper into the woods. Actually, even on Earth, wolves are a lot bigger than most people realize. They’re way more than just big dogs, after all.
“They’re awesome,” Stefan said– because of course he would. “Can you befriend one of them to help with our quest?”
“I’ll give it a shot.” My character’s class has the ability to befriend some animals, as long as we haven’t attacked any of that type nearby, and with a few other stipulations. They would usually fight alongside us, and for a while creatures of that type wouldn’t aggro us. I found some meat in my inventory, offered it to the largest wolf I could find nearby, then used my character’s ability. “Oooh, look at that, first try!”
Stefan looked very pleased on the video stream. “I’m glad you chose that character class, Leila,” he said with a grin.
I smiled and shook my head. “I’m sure you are.” Then I clicked into the wolf’s characteristics and gave it a name.
“Fenrir?” Stefan laughed. “You’re a woman after my own heart, Leila.”
“Whatever you say. Come on, let’s get to this quest!” I was not going to deny what he’d just said, but no way was I brave enough to confirm that he might actually be right. In some way. Or that it wasn’t impossible. Or that– never mind; I couldn’t imagine how our friendship would change if I did something like that.
This song has an air of longing to it; there is a bit of melancholy amidst the beauty.